Preparing for the New Essay on the Redesigned SAT
The redesigned SAT rolls out in March of 2016 with many changes including a new essay.
How will the SAT essay change?
- The type of written analysis required of the students has changed. Students are no longer being asked to agree or disagree with a statement or an author’s point, but rather to analyze the way in which the author makes that point and how “persuasive” he or she is in doing so
- The essay is at the end of the SAT exam rather than at the beginning
- Students have 50 minutes to complete the essay as opposed to 25 minutes on the current version
- There is a new grading system corresponding to the new structure
On the new SAT essay, students will be given a 700-900-word text from a published work in humanities, social sciences, or sciences. Students will be asked to read the text and compose an essay that analyzes the author’s use of evidence, logic, and rhetoric to make a point. The SAT essay questions will be virtually identical going forward, but the texts students must analyze will be different for each test.
Here is the example essay prompt from College Board:
As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed
Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.
So given these significant changes, how do students best prepare?
The impetus behind the changes to SAT, according to David Coleman, the President of College Board, was to make the test align more clearly with the work that students do in school. The expectation, however, is that students are performing rigorous textual analysis. For some, this is true; for others, not. Many students will need to up their rigor level in analyzing texts, diving deeper into the logic and rhetoric of essay composition. This will require practice and training for many.
Looking for other resources?
- College Board has example questions on its website that students can use for practice
- Students can also practice analyzing expository prose using the prompt that College Board has provided and applying the prompt to texts from any number of popular magazines or journals, for example, The Economist, or Scientific American
- Students should also familiarize themselves with some standard terminology used to evaluate writing: Aristotle’s “modes of persuasion,” Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, are a great place to start
With the new SAT, there is no silver bullet or poison hemlock for that matter. The fact is College Board is challenging students to engage in rigorous, textual analysis on the SAT, the sort of which students perform on the AP English exams. The testing world is getting harder, but at the same time the expectations placed on student writing are higher and better.